Tuesday, May 29, 2007

discas scribere*

When I was an undergrad, I took a course on the Renaissance, and we all had to give presentations to the class on a certain figure or book from the period. One of my classmates picked Rene Descartes for his presentation, and so far as I can tell, he put some work into it and had an okay understanding of the material. When he began his presentation, however, the very first word to flop out of his mouth was a jarring "Rene Desscartss..." For those of us in the class who knew the name or had the slightest inkling of French, the word seemed to plop languidly onto the floor and lay there in middle of the room like a steaming turd or a dead cat, and we stared at it, horrified, not even listening to the rest of his speech, save for the many-- so many!-- occasions where he repeated the name, seeming to point at the word to remind us of it again and again. As if we could get past it in the first place!

Similar moments happen online, where one's ignorance of a term's pronunciation--or in the case of writing, spelling--can undermine one's own credibility. Obviously, spelling on blogs doesn't carry the same import as spelling in an academic journal, as we're expected to be typing on the fly and thus letting a typo here and there slip by. Terminology, however, is different: showing knowledge of the subject matter's terminology is a necessary step to establishing your bona fides, and misspelling the lingo exposes readers to the unmistakable whiff of dilettantism. Like, for instance, when you're writing a post or trying to make a point about constitutional law or political theory and you drop a "habeus corpus." When I see that, my eyes glaze over, your point fizzles, and I click the "back button," assuming (often correctly) that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Ahemmmmmmm *donning my tweed and elbow patches and making my best elite Classicist affectation*
Habeus is a Latin-esque gibberish adjective modifying "corpus."

Habeas is a command verb meaning "have" as in "have your body [brought before a court of law]." As in habeas corpus, the right to contest your imprisonment in court.

Habeas freakin' corpus, people. Learn it.

*Learn how to spell.

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